There is a drastic difference between looking the part and being the part in leadership. We can easily put on the facade of the leader we desire to be, while at the same time falling short of being that leader. Looking the part means nothing without being the part.
This time of year, I spend most weekends at the ballpark. In the world of travel baseball, looking the part is a big deal. Teams and parents spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for their kids to look the part. Multiple uniform combinations, expensive bats, flat billed hats, sunglasses, metal spikes, turf shoes, sliding mits, batting gloves, you name it…the kids have it.
As a baseball traditionalist, I could do without most of it. It’s flashy, it’s showy. I tend to give the kids a hard time about their “accessories” while sharing stories of how things used to be, back when I had to play baseball “uphill both ways…in the snow.”
Other than the colors of their uniforms, most teams end up looking the same. They certainly pass the test of looking the part, the more pressing question is, are they being the part? Leadership offers up the same dilemma. Are we looking the part, or being the part?
Here are three ways we can not only LOOK the part, but more importantly BE the part:
Don’t Just Look the Part
Want to quickly find out how good a team really looks? Evaluate them after the first pitch, when the game speeds up, the pressure builds. All the sharp uniforms and accessories in the world will not play the game for you. Looks can’t pitch for you, catch for you, hit for you, or run the bases for you. Being a player is way more effective after the first pitch than just looking like one.
In the game of leadership, we can dress sharp and look the part, but it won’t win our teams for us. In his book 41: A Portrait of My Father, President George W. Bush shared a common phrase that his father would use, “preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary.” Applying this to our leadership worlds means that we can preach our standard operating procedures, policies, mission, vision, and core values all we want, but it is our actions that brings those things to life, not our words.
Practice Makes Permanent
We often remind our players that the games move faster than practice. When things speed up in the game, the Fundamentals we build in practice take over. Practice haphazardly, chaos ensues when things get fast. Practice with a purpose, calm presides in the presence of speed.
In leadership, when crisis hits, pressure builds, and deadlines bear down, things speed up. The work we put into building fundamentals becomes fully on display when things get fast. All eyes turn to the leader under these circumstances. You don’t want to get caught with the bat on your shoulder, watching strike three down the middle when things speed up.
It’s the daily disciplines we practice that matter. Reading books, listening to podcasts, watching videos, and choosing to be a continual learner make a difference in the speed at which the challenges of leadership come at you. What we practice becomes permanent, it presses pause when the pace picks up.
Play for the Name on the Front
Every Jersey Tells a Story on the ballfield. There are two names on a baseball jersey, the one on the back is our individual identity, the one on the front is the team’s. The team’s name is a cause greater than any one player. Individual achievement on the field should be secondary to the team’s success.
Teams are the basis of our existence in leadership. The name of the organization should be proudly worn across our chests. The name on the chest should be figuratively and literally bigger than the one on the back. Our personal achievement should be secondary in size to the organization’s success. WE should always be greater than ME.
Too often leaders get this backwards. Our individual success and professional ambition appears in larger font than the team’s. The greatest leaders display their names in lowercase and the team’s in uppercase. It establishes their priority. Always play for the name on the front.
A leader should wrestle with the tension of looking the part versus being the part daily. Appearance makes a good first impression, but actions that are in alignment create successful sustainability.
I don’t know about you, but looking the part is way easier than being the part. It is easy to fall short of this for me, daily. The struggle to BE the part does not relieve my strong desire to align my beliefs and actions.
Grammatically, the word ARE is a form of the word BE. People follow leaders that ARE the part, so BE the part. BE the leader people want to follow.